'That's the ideal meeting. once upon a time, only once, unexpectedly, then never again.'
In 1972, Sonia Paz Soto-Aguilar Orellana and Pablo Rosetti, both students at Universidad de Chile, recorded two hit songs: "Que Maravilla" ("How Marvelous") and "Y te dire que hay amor" ("I tell you, Love is here"). On January 4, 2014, we met Pablo Rosetti, half of the famous duo.
We stand in a queue, which is snaking its way past a security guard and onto the subterranean concourse of a Chilean shopping centre. We settle in for a lengthy wait for our turn to approach the counter way up ahead. There seems to be an issue up front since the queue hasn't moved in many minutes. The man in front of us is hopping from one foot to the other, sighing impatiently. Perhaps he has to be somewhere else.
I observe the people in the queue. Tomorrow is Sunday so everything will be closed, hence the long queue this afternoon. We seem to be the only tourists in the Bureau de Change; the majority of the people here seem to be locals. I look at the profile of the gentleman in front of us. He is taller than most of the patrons here, broad shoulders and a magnificent head of curls: greying and wild. When he turns his face in our direction, I notice that although he has few wrinkles, he is probably in his late sixties, about the same age as Tom.
It's been a long day. Waking early, we had made our way down to the designated pickup point to meet our tour bus, which was to take us to the UNESCO listed historical seaport of Valparaiso, some 120 kilometres from Santiago, Chile.
I like to sit by the window, and whilst many of the passengers sleep, I try to gain an overview of rural life as we speed past the market gardens, vineyards and small farms. It's Saturday, so it's market day and as we approach the city of Valparaiso, the main road is filled with produce and household goods. I see furniture and hardware items spread out on tarpaulins on the ground. Shoes, clothes and other household items are protected from the hot sun by portable gazebos. Salespeople with bum-bags around their waists circulate, whilst others sit on stools and chat to their friends. A little further up the road is the food market. A huge pile of corn is neatly stacked whilst potatoes, beans, cabbages and a variety of freshly-picked vegetables are displayed on wooden trestles. This scene could be from any place on earth. Markets, I've realised, are the same all over the world. I almost wish the bus would stop so we can jump out and mingle with the market-goers.
As the bus negotiates the traffic and market stalls, a large edifice emerges from the multitude of blue-topped gazebos. Monumento al Cable de Cobre, a huge monument to copper cables stands tall and can be seen from a long distance. In a continent that has many monuments and grand statues, this stands out as something that doesn't quite fit into the usual parade of military generals and their rearing horses. Erected in 1995, it is the result of a competition held by the local municipality. I suppose, all the world over, we are seeing progressive and unusual street art, even in the most unexpected places. I'm not sure why I'm surprised that to see a sculpture of this magnitude here; after all, I always did have a soft spot for the Yellow Peril in Melbourne.
My reverie is broken as the bus nears our destination and I do have to listen to instructions as we will need to meet the driver later at a different location. The bus slowly climbs the steep road, gears crunching down as the driver negotiates sharp bends in the large vehicle. Outside the window I see an assortment of brightly-coloured dwellings, arranged higgledy piggledy; precariously on the side of the hill. Footpaths are replaced with concrete steps, and cars are parked on any available flat surface. The buildings, primarily built of rendered bricks and any other material the owners are able to access: galvanised iron, timber, and stones. I'm surprised to see trees and plants growing in any spare space, no matter how tiny. Old, dilapidated multi-storey structures stand next to grand, well-kept homes. We arrive at an area large enough for the bus to stop and we alight, happy with being able to stretch our legs after the long journey from Santiago.
We are here, though, to explore the urban hillsides, which overlook the Pacific Ocean. I can see a tanker in the distance, arriving at the port far below, and ready to disgorge it's load. Our guide walks with us through neighbourhoods; a labyrinth of streets and cobblestone alleyways, pointing out buildings of note as we go.
It appears to me that a common element of urban streets across the world is the proliferation of graffiti. Valparaiso is no different. Like Melbourne, numerous walls are decorated with street art, some depicting the many facets of Chilean culture. We pass several beautiful murals during our walk, and I'm starting to believe that this type of art may become the cultural legacy of a city or even of a country in a very public and accessible way. When public spaces are made available to artists, their work becomes a valuable and fluid part of a city. However, like everywhere else, graffiti tags are disliked and house-proud residents spend much time removing the work of vandals.
Stepping into the foyer of an apartment building, it is apparent that it is straddling a staircase, which we climb. Clearly it is a way of using available space to its best advantage. It is becoming apparent to me that residents in this city must be extremely fit. On the flip side however, despite access via the narrow roads, it would be a huge challenge for emergency services to attend a fire or a medical emergency.
Near the top of the staircase we've just climbed, the architecturally beautiful Palacio Baburizza appears. Now a museum, it once belonged to a rich investor in saltpeter mines. We are now near the top of our hill and from this vantage point, have an almost 360 degree view of the city.
A few metres away is a corrugated iron shed sitting precariously on the side of the mountain. Entering, we step into a funicular station. It is one of seven operating elevators that move people and goods from the high reaches of the hills to the relatively flat downtown area, and which are used as a mode of public transport in the same way we use buses and trams. The elevators are listed as monuments, and work is underway to restore many of the original 30. The ride down the steep hillside provides wonderful views over the Pacific Ocean.
At the end of the day as we arrive back in Santiago, we have the option of finishing our tour at Mall Arauco Maipu, where we are now waiting to change some money.
The gentleman in front of us catches my eye and greets me in perfect English. It isn't the first time we've met random people and chatted as if we're long-lost friends. Sometimes they even unload their life story, if they have enough time. To be honest, I enjoy these encounters, as speaking to local people gives a great insight into a culture. It also gives us the opportunity to ask questions about local sights, restaurants and general places that may be of interest to us, and that may be off the beaten track.
He explains that he is Chilean, the son of a diplomat who spent his childhood living in Europe. He speaks several languages fluently. We move up a space, and our new friend is now almost at the head of the queue. He asks us whether we enjoy listening to music. We nod in unison.
'I was once the most famous singer in Chile. With my partner, our songs were in first and second place in the Chilean Billboard charts for 16 weeks in 1972.'
He asks me for a piece of paper. I hand him my notebook open at a fresh page onto which he wrote four words; Pachi y Pablo Google. At that moment, the counter clears and as he moves towards the cashier, he repeats,
And so we do. Later on, as we access wifi in our hotel, I do a search. Photos in the search results clearly show the man we had met earlier in the evening, albeit forty years older. We have met and conversed with one of the most famous Chilean musicians from 1972.
We don't expect to see him again, and indeed we may never hear his name, Pablo Rosetti, again, but we will never forget the pleasure we had talking to a stranger during a few short minutes whilst standing in a queue on the other side of the world.
Title Quote: Helen Oyeyemi
Date: January 4, 2014 with Pablo Rosetti.
Accommodation: Mercure Hotel, Avda Lib Bernardo O'Higgins,
632 Santiago Centro 8330066, Santiago Chile.
Tour: Peregrine Chile, Argentina, Brazil from 5/1/2014-18/1/2014